Professor makes playwright debut
Kelly Konya | Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Former Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s professor Matthew Benedict will make his debut as a local playwright Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the South Bend Civic Theatre.
His play, titled “A False Lie,” begins when two strangers meet on an ordinary fall day in Cape Cod, both attempting to escape their complicated lives, Benedict said.
“Over the course of the ensuing day, they slowly reveal to each other their physical and psychological scars, and through this joint revelatory act, each embraces the ‘false lie,’ or ‘truth,’ ignored,” he said. “‘A False Lie’ explores how trust cultivates truth and truth triggers redemption.”
Benedict, who most recently taught a course in language and literature last semester at Saint Mary’s, was also a member of the Notre Dame Department of English for 18 years. He received his M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Notre Dame, he said.
Benedict said the two main characters of “A False Lie,” Grace and Kane, are protagonists from two separate short stories he had published years ago.
“In these intervening years, I’ve tried several times to put them into the same narrative,” he said. “Attempts at several short stories and even a novel failed, and rightfully so. One day while working on another play, a thought bubble appeared: Put Grace and Kane in a play.
“Bingo. Six weeks later, I had the first draft of ‘A False Lie.’”
Benedict said he enjoys writing plays because of their need for physical movement accompanying psychological action. He doesn’t experience writing fiction the same way, a genre that can cause a writer to become obsessed with the work’s introspectiveness.
“I guess if there’s a ‘lesson’ from the history of ‘A False Lie,’ it’s you have to have both the courage and the patience to try different forms,” he said. “Something that’s somewhat dead as a poem, for example, might actually work as a play. Something that just doesn’t feel right as a story might be a photograph.
“Finding the appropriate medium, form and genre is as important as what that medium and form and genre eventually become.”
Benedict said he is excited for the play’s production and hopes the story will hold together and be plausible, even poignant, for the audience.
Saint Mary’s first-year Mary Prebys, a former student of Benedict’s, said she will definitely be in the audience to see Benedict’s passion and brilliance for writing and theatre shine through his work.
“Professor Benedict’s class last semester was hands down my favorite class,” Prebys said. “He had an incredible way of relating all of the texts we read to each other and to our world and society today.
“I learned so much in his class, but I believe the most important thing he taught was the importance of asking questions outside of class.”
Prebys said Benedict was always willing to meet with students, which was when she saw firsthand his zeal for teaching.
“It was in those conversations that I truly felt myself grow, not only in my writing, but in how I mentally approach a topic and think through that topic,” she said.
“Even though he taught a literature class, I felt I grew more as a philosopher and critical thinker, in the best way possible.”
Saint Mary’s first-year Colleen Maus, another former student of Benedict’s, said Benedict was very intriguing in class because the students never knew what to expect from him.
“He always managed to command the class in an engaging and interesting manner,” Maus said. “We could easily tell how passionate he is about his field.”
Benedict said he is currently working on two plays: one an expansion of a short story and the other historically-based.
“I’m also doing some very rudimentary work with comic and graphic writing,” Benedict said. “We’ll see where it goes. You just never know, which is why I like writing, and teaching so much: You just never know. But what joy, excitement and fun it is finding out.”